The scoop on poop, or how is poop like raku pottery?

A raku pottery box that I made in pottery class

So chicken poop can be amazingly stinky! Why is that? Well, the basic chemistry is that there is a lot of ammonium in there. As you’ll recall (or not) from high school chem class, ammonium is NH4 –four hydrogen atoms around a nitrogen atom. Through chemical processes not to be expounded upon here, but which you can read at your leisure (there will be a test later) here, that smelly poop is a great source of nitrogen for your garden and compost heap.

There is also the idea that chicken poop might be used as a biofuel through a technology called pyrolysis (from the Greek pyro “fire” and lysis “decomposition”). The resulting product is called biochar, and it consists of chicken droppings that have been cooked in an anaerobic environment (that is, without oxygen – sort of like the reduction environment needed to make really nice raku pottery – but the end results are not nearly as aesthetic). Cooking the poop in an anaerobic environment prevents release of carbon! et voila! We have a fixed-carbon fertilizer!

Now before you go out and raku fire your chicken poop, you might find this article to be informative about the biochar process.

And, there, I’ve just incorporated 4 of my favorite topics (chickens, chemistry, art, and linguistics) into one post!


3 responses to this post.

  1. This post stinks…not! Totally fun. I didn’t even realize I was learning something.


  2. Posted by Rick on September 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Are you telling me you made pottery out of chicken poop? I find this completely amazing, I only thought it was good for garden.


    • LOL! No, not quite! The thing that raku pottery and chicken poop have in common is the anaerobic environment. You can produce biochar fuel from chicken droppings by heating in a reduction environment (i.e., without oxygen). Likewise, raku pottery is fired in a reduction environment to produce its characteristic shiny metallic glazes. I just thought it was fun that both involved reduction environments.


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